by Toby Hulse based on the novel by Kenneth Grahame.

Polka Theatre 240 The Broadway Wimbledon SW19 1SB To 16 February 2013.
11am 12, 26 Jan.
2pm 3-6, 13, 19, 20, 27 Jan, 2, 9, 16 Feb.
2.30pm 12, 26 Jan.
5.30pm 5, 19, Jan, 2, 9 Feb.
Autism-friendly perf 5 Jan 5.30pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 8543 4888.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 December.

Lively and colourful, thoughtful and amusing.
For a lighter, shorter touch than Alan Bennett’s well-established version of this Edwardian children’s classic, try Toby Hulse’s adaptation. It comes from a writer experienced in young people’s theatre, in particular through his Bristol New Vic Christmas series of No Loud Bangs. Though he never labours the point, Hulse finds the positive element in Kenneth Grahame’s story of river-bank creatures with their friendships and anxieties.

Yet this is a world threatened by riots and social unrest. The wind is heard in the willows more than once, and it is spelled out as a sign of trouble. Rioters wreck Toad’s home, while the Wild Wooders are the great unwashed who know no social responsibility. Toad, however, brings a lot on himself, and the salvaging of his residence, while duly entertaining as a battle, is only a prelude to a wider accord, its eventual resolution coming visually, as the Squirrel finally feels secure enough to relax her defensive claws-at-ready posture.

If this is a more active, less ruminative experience than Bennett’s script, it remains a rich experience about trust, anxiety, friendship and choices. Directed by Polka Artistic Director Jonathan Lloyd it moves along without seeming hurried, and the story finds space for the occasional Christmas trope, like the chase through the audience.

Singing is adequate, if rarely more, but the acting is well-gauged for 5-11s, its clarity and sympathy never an excuse for over-simplification or lack of care. Kange Tanikye-Buah and Arran Glass flit ominously about, and manage to seem like an invading horde when the time comes. Among the protagonists, Robert Saunders is a suitably annoying Toad, dropping one costly fad for another until he finally gains some self-awareness, while Nick Ash never makes his company-hating, but friend-enjoying Badger ponderous. Phil Yarrow is a bright, optimistic Rat, almost making us believe, for a few moments, he’d be better off at sea, while Ailsa Joy’s shy, loyal Mole is a model of modesty, the friend anyone would like to have, and ought to appreciate.

Liz Cooke’s design, with its changing seasons, emphasises the script’s time element, and the strength of enduring friendships.

Badger/Wild Wooder: Nick Ash.
Duck/Ferret/Rabbit/Swallow/Black Rat: Arran Glass.
Mole/Wild Wooder: Ailsa Joy.
Toad/Wild Wooder: Robert Saunders.
Red Squirrel/Duck/Rabbit/Swallow/Girl/Wild Wooder: Kanga Tanikye-Buah.
Ratty: Phil Yarrow.

Director: Jonathan Lloyd.
Designer: Liz Cooke.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Composer: Martin Ward.
Fight director: RC- Annie.
Assistant director: Anne Stoffels.

2012-12-31 23:30:53

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